“Go back to where you came from”

GIF from http://giphy.com/search/bye-bye-bye

It struck me when Charkaoui v Canada (http://scc-csc.lexum.com/scc-csc/scc-csc/en/item/2345/index.do) was brought up in class a of couple weeks ago that I had recently read a story about the indefinite detainment of a Somali-Canadian named Abdikarim Gelle (http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/edmonton/the-edmonton-man-no-country-wants-1.3792542). In a nutshell (and I’m not sure that you can put this story in a nutshell), Mr. Gelle came to Canada as a refugee at the age of 13. Since, his life in Canada has been dually plagued with both criminal convictions and severe mental health issues. Apparently this helped Canada identify Mr. Gelle as a “lost cause” and they ordered his deportation 2010. Somalia refused to take Mr. Gelle back due to his mental health issues (we will not even go there…). Now 31 years of age in 2016, he is still detained in Edmonton, “too dangerous” to release where he grew up, but “too ill” to “go back to where he came from”.

There are so many things that I do not know about immigration law, criminal law, the experiences of refugees, mental health issues, and so on, and so forth. I wonder if anyone can truly understand the intricacies of all of these interactions. There are a few things that I find especially troubling about the Mr. Gelle’s story. These will be the points that I touch on briefly.

Firstly, what makes Mr. Gelle more Somali than Canadian? Mr. Gelle came to Canada as a child. Albeit he was so ill that he was unable to attend his citizenship ceremony, but he was still a child in Canada. He did not come to Canada for the purpose of doing crime. He came to Canada with his family, less the males tragically lost in the war, to make a new life. My point is not to erase Mr. Gelle’s heritage. Instead, I question why, after almost 20 years in Canada, is it possible to order him to “go back to where he came from”? Think about this in a different way. If Mr. Gelle was born in Canada, what would the order be? Could we keep him in jail indefinitely on the “charge” that he is too dangerous to release? I can’t speak from experience but my thought is that he would be transferred to a psychiatric centre.

Secondly, where were the services that Mr. Gelle so desperately needed early on in his time in Canada? There is unequivocal evidence that adverse childhood experiences directly influence social, emotional and cognitive processes later on in life (https://www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/acestudy/index.html). Had there been some intervention, the effects of his early trauma could have been mitigated. Instead, I reckon he was never given a proper chance. Perhaps the colour of his skin played a role in this. It seems clear from class readings and discussions that discrimination is rampant in Canada, despite the best foot that we try to put forward. Perhaps these services were inaccessible due to the language barrier with Mr. Gelle and his family.

Thirdly, let’s say that Mr. Gelle fell through the cracks as a child, his mental health issues unidentified. (This is unlikely given he was in a psychiatric ward for his citizenship ceremony… but for conversation’s sake). How was Mr. Gelle found to be criminally responsible for his 57 convictions? According section 16 of the Criminal Code:

“No person is criminally responsible for an act committed or an omission made while suffering from a mental disorder that rendered the person incapable of appreciating the nature and quality of the act or omission or of knowing that it was wrong.” (http://laws-lois.justice.gc.ca/eng/acts/C-46/section-16.html)

This appears to fit the description of Mr. Gelle, at least on some accounts. And if this is true, it seems as though the SCC decision in R v. Winko should apply:

“The purposes of restriction on his liberty are to protect society and to allow the NCR accused to seek treatment.” (https://scc-csc.lexum.com/scc-csc/scc-csc/en/item/1711/index.do)

It seems clear to me and other groups (http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/edmonton/improve-mental-health-services-for-edmonton-deportee-urges-black-lives-matter-1.3795659) that Mr. Gelle has not received the treatment that he deserves. By treatment I mean both fair treatment in the criminal justice system and in the healthcare system.

So on whom does the onus fall? I realize the limitations of intervention and of course funding. However, this seems to be a systematic problem. Why do we agree to accept immigrants that we cannot fully support and provide with the services, programming and protections that they deserve as citizens? (This question opens a whole new can of worms. We often take in refugees because even a life lacking some of the services and programming those children born in Canada have is better than a life (or the threat of loss of life) in the war-torn countries that they arrived from). And why, after so many years of failure on our part, does Canada get to say “see ya later” to a so-called “permanent resident”. Permanent residency doesn’t seem so permanent after all. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, where do Mr. Gelle’s rights fall in all of this?

– Kiri Latuskie, 2016

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